2009 Fantasy outlooks: Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs made wholesale changes in the offseason, from the front office to the sidelines to under center. Our Jamey Eisenberg helps Fantasy owners decipher what it all means.
The Chiefs are hoping past success can lead to future bounty. They brought in Scott Pioli to run the team after he helped Bill Belichick build a dynasty in New England. They hired Todd Haley as the head coach after his offense got Arizona to the Super Bowl. And they traded for quarterback Matt Cassel , who was a star as Tom Brady's replacement last year, and linebacker Mike Vrabel , who was a leader of the Patriots defense for years and also a good red-zone target. If they can shine in Kansas City like they did elsewhere, the Chiefs will be in line for a big season, and Fantasy owners will reap the benefits.
The face of the franchise, Tony Gonzalez , is gone after being traded to Atlanta. But Fantasy owners still have Larry Johnson , Dwayne Bowe and Cassel to count on as potential starters, and there are a handful of other options you could stash on your team. Mark Bradley showed last year he's actually a decent NFL wide receiver. Jamaal Charles can be a good reserve running back. And Bobby Engram is hoping a return to health and a new setting is just what he needs. If Brad Cottam shows any kind of skills in replacing Gonzalez, the Chiefs offense should click. Haley also proved with the Cardinals that his offense can be dominant in the passing game, which should be the strength of Kansas City's team.
Sleeper ... Jamaal Charles , RB
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Larry Johnson is going to be better than he was the past two seasons when injuries and off-field problems derailed his production. But he missed four games last year and eight games the year before, and he will be 30 in November. There's a realistic concern he's on the decline, which should open the door for Charles to make some plays. Charles is the third-down back for the Chiefs, and last year as a rookie he had 629 total yards and one touchdown. You'll be able to draft him with a late-round pick in Fantasy leagues, and if Johnson misses time this season, Charles will take over. Keep in mind, Todd Haley benched Edgerrin James last year when he faltered in favor of Tim Hightower , and Charles has the potential to be a starter in the NFL. Johnson isn't going away, but Charles is waiting in the wings to take over in Kansas City.
Breakout ... Mark Bradley , WR
There's a reason the Chiefs were willing to part with Gonzalez, and that's because Haley's offense doesn't rely on the tight end. Instead, he features multiple-receiver sets and counts on his starting wideouts to make plays. We know Bowe is a star, and Bradley stepped up last year when he signed with the Chiefs early in the season after a failed experience with Chicago. Bradley had 30 catches for 380 yards and three touchdowns, and he also threw a touchdown pass to Tyler Thigpen in the "Wildcat" formation. If Bowe draws extra coverage from the defense, that will leave Bradley with more opportunities to step up. He's worth drafting with a late-round pick, and Bradley can go from a No. 4 Fantasy option to as high as No. 2 if this passing game takes off. A lot will depend on Cassel's development and Bradley's willingness to keep improving now that he appears to have found a home.
Bust ... Matt Cassel , QB
Cassel still has the potential to be a tremendous Fantasy option, but we liked him better with Gonzalez on the team. Bowe is an outstanding talent, Bradley has potential and Engram should do well as the slot receiver, but this isn't the same caliber of receivers Cassel had in New England when comparing them to Randy Moss and Wes Welker . If you're drafting Cassel with a mid-round pick as a low-end No. 1 Fantasy quarterback then you're in good shape, but make sure you have a quality backup option like Kyle Orton , Eli Manning or Ben Roethlisberger . If you draft Cassel in the first tier of quarterbacks thinking he's ready to build on last year's performance (3,693 passing yards, 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions and 270 rushing yards and two touchdowns) then you're going to be disappointed. He will likely be around the same stats or even take a step back, and we wouldn't be surprised if Tyler Thigpen plays a role this season. Cassel should be good, just not great.
Training camp topics
The Chiefs will go through the motions of letting Thigpen compete for the starting job, but Cassel is going to line up under center when the season starts. Thigpen has plenty of talent, but he had no chance to be the starter after the team acquired Cassel. Cottam also has to prove he's ready to step up and replace arguably the best tight end of all time. Cottam should be considered a No. 2 Fantasy option because the new Chiefs offense likely won't involve him as much as Gonzalez was used. And all eyes will be on Johnson to see if he can be a good teammate after wanting out of Kansas City following last year's turmoil. If Johnson falters, Charles will be ready.
The Chiefs have a chance to turn things around quickly in the weak AFC West. There is some talent on defense with Vrabel, Zach Thomas and rookie Tyson Jackson , who should improve the pass rush right away, which was a big problem last year. If the offense clicks with Cassel and the Chiefs can establish a running game, don't be surprised if Kansas City hovers around .500 by the end of the season.
Injury update ... Brodie Croyle (Knee; considered questionable to start training camp)
Are you ready for the 2009 Fantasy season? If not, we're here for you. Send us an e-mail at DMFantasyFootball@cbs.com. We'll respond to as many as we can.
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